As e-commerce gets cool, brands need smart shoppable strategies

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Tug’s Faye Daffarn on how to get shoppable media right in an evolved age for online marketplaces / Lisheng Chang via Unsplash

Shoppable ads (advertisements that combine product promotion and a chance to buy, often on social media) are a booming business, especially with TikTok’s spectacular ascension during the pandemic. As with any fad, some will get it right; some will get it wrong. Tug’s UK managing director Faye Daffarn lays out how to stay on the right side of that divide.

E-commerce is becoming increasingly cool. Shoppable media is a prime example. But as mockingly pointed out by pop icon Grace Jones and Barclaycard, being trendy isn’t a guarantee of success. That’s just as true for brands hoping to join the new wave of digital shopping as it is for payment service providers.

While there may be questions around whether their credentials are ‘hip’ enough, it’s clear brands have much to gain from joining the shoppable party. The e-commerce market is due to keep ballooning (by another $10.87tn in the next few years) and consumers are more open to buying on channels outside established shopping platforms, especially social media.

The challenge will be ensuring messages reach audiences at the right time, and in the right way, to resonate and drive results.

Surfing the livestream tide

While already popular across Asia and especially China (two-thirds of Chinese consumers bought this way in 2020), livestreaming only recently gained ground in the west.

M&S recently launched M&S Live, a livestream shopping service where customers can hear more about product ranges and ask questions live. A Clarins pilot with livestreaming platform Bambuser fueled conversion rates of 30%, convincing the beauty brand to sign up for a long-term deal across 10 global markets.

These results show that fast adoption allows brands to stay in tune with audience habits and capitalize on the demand for instant gratification.

To maximize effectiveness, brands need a precise understanding of the impact livestreaming their activities has (covering both real-time sales and later buys across wider channels inspired by views).

This requires holistic measurement across omnichannel journeys. The smartest platforms have developed streamlined processes for ingesting, normalizing and merging multi-source data in real-time, using capabilities from the Google Cloud platform. By blending a mix of tools – such as Google App Script, Python and API connectors – these technologies can immediately input data from disparate channels into BigQuery datasets and produce detailed reporting. This gives brands the ability to link livestream acquisition journeys to eventual conversions and sales at a granular level.

Driving engagement on- and off-screen

The latest breed of shoppable TV content is taking an interactive approach that’s a far cry from QVC, thanks largely to innovations in connected TV (CTV) and artificial intelligence (AI). Last year, ITV used both to create a real-time shopping service. AI product identification and tagging notified users of shoppable items, as well as enabling them to buy directly from their CTV screens, or via links sent to mobile devices.

Studies show that up to 95% of people typically have devices in-hand while viewing TV. The interplay between TV and other channels isn’t new, especially when it comes to mobile. But this mixed interaction still adds complexity for shoppable campaigns, making it essential to apply a multi-faceted performance evaluation.

Traditional A/B location testing and brand lift studies will remain important for tracking audience response, especially top-of-the-funnel metrics such as brand awareness, perception and favorability. They’ll also need to determine what steps to take after seeing ads, and whether they lead to sales.

Leading platforms and savvy analysts are increasingly harnessing machine learning (ML) to run causal modeling that plots the path from shoppable TV ads, visits to featured URLs, brand and product searches and final purchases. For brands, the outcome is full performance oversight of how shoppable TV ads impact attitudes and purchases.

Selecting social activities with care

Since 2020, social commerce has gone from a global market value of $560bn to over $950bn, with social engagement driven by the pandemic. TikTok, in particular, is keenly aware of the enhanced appeal it now holds for brands as a major center of user attention, having recently surpassed 600m downloads.

TikTok has made moves to build its commercial muscle. TikTok Shopping, which allows brands to add shopping tabs to their profiles and create on-platform storefronts, has been extended to include additional partners in the wake of a trial with Shopify. As part of the newly-unveiled TikTok World global experience, the platform has also launched its new shopping API and creator marketplace: a self-serve portal that allows brands to ‘shop’ for relevant creators.

It’s important to remember that, when everyone is a creator, quality matters. Brands should set trackable goals and use advanced real-time analysis to keep a persistent eye on performance against KPIs.

As shoppable options increase, brands have more scope than ever to engage with digitally-focused audiences in their chosen environment. Ensuring they are welcome will require shrewd navigation. Winning the favor of fashionable shoppers will mean basing activity on deep understanding of their target audiences and how they are interacting with messages across their omnichannel mix; not just what seems likely to earn ‘cool’ points.